Archive for October, 2012

Technology–master or servant?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Microsoft are about to introduce their most important product for years, Windows 8.  It is a new, common platform/interface to be used by phones, PC’s and tablets, so that users have a common experience regardless of platform.  They are taking a leaf out of Apple’s book in this and there is little wrong in learning from a company that seems to be able to little wrong a at present.  They are even launching their own brand of tablet, à la iPad, the Surface, it’s killer feature is that it  has an optional keyboard and is meant to be very good for creating, rather than merely consuming content.  I have heard mainly very good things about all of these developments.  However, there is one big issue that is much talked about; they have completely changed the way people interface with Windows, and done away with the Start button that most of us use as our route into using our PC’s.  True this can be put back (see below), but it begs the question, is the technology the master or the servant?  Do we want to change our work patterns to conform to their design, or should their design be malleable enough to do it the way we prefer?

Of course this a question of Change, and as I have recently changed from Blackberry to Android, I have been asking myself this a lot.  Is there a better way to do what I do, or can I find software that will allow me to configure the platform the way I want.  Of course we shouldn’t reject the idea that there maybe a better way of working, but patterns and habits are Nature’s way of helping us to be efficient and good software design does not intrude, it enables.  That is one reason why Apple has been so successful, because it has managed to make most of its designs appear simple.  Of course, this simplicity is illusory, but most of us aren’t interested in how things work, simply that they do.  I have to say, that after a couple of weeks of wrestling with the various configurations and potential apps, I am pretty pleased with how I have been able to configure my new Galaxy S3, and I certainly feel that I can do more things, more quickly because of it. 

So, sometimes a change is good for us, and sometimes we just know the quickest easiest route and the technology companies just need to enable us to use it.  As new technology is introduced, so new possibilities are born; things like the GPS can give us a whole new set of options whether we are walkers, drivers or fleet operators.  This challenge of making interfaces easy also exists when we are designing our processes and procedures. These should make it simple for staff and more importantly customers to deal with us and never get in the way.   I have recently chosen not to do business with a number of sites that just make it too fiddly to do business with them.  Make sure your business is a pleasure to do business with!

Resources:

  1. Windows 8 Start key

Man and machines

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I was listening to an interesting discussion yesterday about the nature of technology and change, which are inextricably linked.  They were describing the way that technology was changing our world, uniting people, speeding up communication etc.; all very familiar sentiments till you realised these words were describing the introduction of the telegraph over 100 years ago!  Technology and change has been with us for a long time, it just moves faster now and lulls us into a false sense that we can deal with it. 

One of the most interesting thoughts was that the most complex piece of technology was the modern city and that this was created by the intersection of the car and the elevator.  There are a series of ‘backbones’ such as roads, drains and other major bits of infrastructure on which we hang all our buildings and other creations.  We then weave our lives and our businesses around these.  We are always, literally, building on the past.  A city is made up of an almost infinitely complex set of interactions and is a mix of hardware and software (us!) and thus can appropriately be thought of as a  bit technology.  It is certainly a system.

The thought I had was that on a simpler level, even a small business is made up of the same elements.  We have the interaction of people, systems and technology, of time and place.  Because we are used to them we don’t realise the complexity of the interactions required to keep the ‘machine’ working.  If one person has a bad day, it can spark off a string of consequences that can affect the whole system and affect its customers or suppliers. By chance, later that day, I was talking to a businessman who specialises in major infrastructure projects and we agreed that despite all the clever engineering and design, the one element that always tends to be overlooked is the people part of the equation.  Never underestimate the power of people to slow down change if you don’t handle them properly..

Initial Impressions–Samsung Galaxy S3.. or why I left Blackberry

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

I have recently bitten the bullet and decided to move on from my much loved Blackberry Bold 9900.  I have used Blackberries for quite some time and they were the best phones I’ve ever had.  I loved the way they were programmed and the way that their key functions such as diary, contacts and email integrated.  It also was the best telephone I’d had; it always pulled a strong, clear signal.  In addition, the camera met my needs and I had a few useful ‘extras’ such as GPS on the phone.  However, chinks have undoubtedly appeared in RIM’s previously untarnished armour and their system has fallen over twice and caused a huge wave of frustration amongst its loyal fan base.  There is no doubt that their hardware & software is behind the game, with Apple and Android setting the pace now.  One of my main problems was using the net with a screen less than half the size of even an old smartphone and nearer a quarter the size of the latest models.  RIM have invested heavily in a total rewrite of its operating system, and Blackberry10, which is currently being previewed by developers, seems to have a lot to offer.  Also their new hardware looks very promising.  However this is not due to be released till next spring, and it seems unlikely that it will be available before then, and the chances are that it may take longer for it to reach the UK.  RIM have gone from being the golden child, to the runt of the litter, with a market share of little more than 10% in record time.

I have read nothing but good things about the iPhone 5, and it did tempt me.  I have an iPad, using iOS 6, so I have some idea of how to use that and what it offers.  My daughters have recently also ‘jumped ship’ and bought iPhone 4s, and are pretty happy with them.  However, I do like my tools / gadgets to be organised to reflect how I want to use them, rather than expecting me to change what I do to conform with them.  Also Apple is always the most expensive option. So I decided that I would try Android, which offers a lot of flexibility in how you configure and use it, even if it required more work on the my part.  The Samsung Galaxy S3 seemed to be the new Top Gun.  I did consider the HTC one X, which is also very good , but felt that the sheer market share the S3 has would make it easier to find resources/support for it, and also there are issues with the HTC’s battery life.  You can swap batteries on both the Android phones, but you are stuffed if your iPhone runs out of juice when you are out and about.  I wondered about waiting for Windows 8 and the Nokia Lumia 920, but it isn’t out till the end of the month and as a totally new system it seemed likely to have teething issues that iOS and Android have largely sorted.

So I took the plunge and dived into a totally alien operating system.  The phone is big, but certainly not too big for me.  The biggest difference is the screen, which dominates the whole thing (though at the loss of my beloved BB keyboard!)  I had already migrated my diary and contacts to Gmail so there was no work in getting them onto my phone, I simply signed into that account and they were magically there.  I could simply move all my music and pictures over by inserting my micro SD card from my BB, giving me 32gb of memory for the princely sum of only £10, something else that you can’t do on the iPhone.

Android offers so many things you can configure straight from the box, it takes as while to understand them and work out what they do, let alone which I should choose.  Much is made, when a new phone is released, of the gimmicky things like voice control, gestures and things like NFC.  I don’t feel in the real world they are going to be of much use to me.  It is interesting to see how well I can dictate to my phone, but ,by and large, I want to type my input.  Some of the gestures are helpful, but I frankly can’t remember them all!  It is like the short codes in Windows; I regularly used 2 or 3 like Control B for bold, and couldn’t remember the rest.  NFC may be very useful one day, but I had it for a year on the BB and never used it.

I spent a fair time trawling through articles, forums and YouTube for hints and tips on how to set this up and which of the 500,000+ apps are useful.  I like the fact that if the Samsung calendar doesn’t do everything I want I can find one that does.  After a week, I have a pretty well sorted and organised phone.  In it’s native form it misses useful tricks that are standard on BB and Nokia such as profiles, but you can find apps for that too. 

I was concerned that the signal strength and call clarity might not be all that I am used to, and in truth, I’m not certain that they are as good as the BB.  They do seem good enough though.

I came to the conclusion that there is no perfect phone.  Whatever I chose is a compromise and every one will have strengths and weaknesses.  I just have to find the best package for me in this renewal cycle, and I did want to get much more hands on with the whole new smartphone & app thing.  It is certainly changing the way we work and what we can do.  The S3 isn’t an object of envy like the iPhone, but it is a very good phone, which allows you to do most anything you could want at a pretty reasonable cost.

Apple and Google: the result of their patent wars

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

The net impact of Apple and Google taking each other on in the courts has not seemed to affect the public and their buying decisions.  Android phones are being activated at a rate of 1.3m per day!  The Samsung S3 outsold the iPhone 4s in the US in August, though admittedly this was just before the iPhone 5 was due to launch, but it is still the best selling phone on T-Mobile in the US.  It has however made a lot of lawyers very rich. In fact these two companies have spent more on law suits than R&D.  It makes me wonder just what improvements in their products and services we might all have been enjoying if they had decided to invest in them rather than in this legal battle. 

Many years ago I was involved in a top level bench marking mission to top Japanese corporations.  One of our executives asked why they were willing to share their ‘secrets’ with us and they replied “By the time you have succeeded in copying us, we will have moved on..”  In a fast moving world, it seems to me that focusing on the thing which drives you forward is a better bet than looking over your shoulder.  It is interesting that Apple introduced a chip into their new ‘lightening’ cable (the one that connects the new iPhone and iPod to your PC) to ‘authenticate’ it as a genuine Apple accessory.  Within mere months of its introduction the reverse engineers have discovered that it is a relatively simple chip, in fact far simpler than those used in print cartridges, and it is likely to be easily bypassed.  The thing that no one has succeeded in copying Apple in, is its style and joined-up offerings, that make the vast majority of its users feel secure, looked after and chic.

The irony is that they have quite different strategies.  Apple want to create a safe ‘walled garden’ within which they control everything and make sure it works.  Google are interested in the whole net experience and seek enable technologies that will extend and enhance that experience, such as mobile phones, tablets & programs that draw you into engaging more with them such as Google maps.

So what are the lessons for the average business?  I think they are:-

  1. Be clear on what are really good at
  2. Be clear on your strategy
  3. Understand why your customers choose you
  4. Focus on the things that drive you forward
  5. Don’t forget that it is often the quality of the relationships you have that are your key differentiator.  In real life, most of us do not have such distinctive offerings as Apple or Google, and people do business with people they like and those who help them to be successful

 

Resources:

  1. Gizmodo
  2. BGR

A bike made out of… cardboard?!?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

An Israeli inventor, Izhar Gafni, has succeeded in making a bike out of the very thing that normal bikes come in… the box!  The bike is not just theoretical either, it will begin production in the next month or so.  It will cost around $9 to make and can be bought for around $20, which will change the lives of many of the poorest in places like Africa.  They are not only cheap, but maintenance free.

It is this kind of thinking that more businesses, and indeed individuals, need; to look at something that is usually regarded as waste and turn it into a valuable resource.  If you can’t compete, change the game!

Resources:

  1. Telegraph article